Learning to fly

Hood Herald/TJ MAXWELL - A Raven unmanned aerial vehicle rests on the ground while soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team and 41st Fires Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, record the results of a semiannual proficiency and readiness test training exercise Friday at House Creek Urban Assault Course at Fort Hood.

By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Fort Hood Herald

Unmanned aerial vehicle operators from across the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team came together Friday for a certification in preparation for their upcoming deployment.

They were joined at House Creek Assault Course by Fort Hood's only UAV master trainers, both from the 41st Fires Brigade. Sgt. 1st Class Randell Evans of the 2nd Battalion, 20th Field Artillery Regiment, is one of those trainers. He attended an intensive course at Fort Benning, Ga., to learn how to instruct Fort Hood soldiers on how to launch, control and land a UAV called the Raven.

The Raven is the smallest of the Army's UAVs. It weighs 4½ pounds, has a 5-foot wingspan and is 38 inches long, according to www.army-technology.com. That means the Raven is portable and can fit in a rucksack, Evans said. The aircraft and its control system weigh just 20 pounds, with the heaviest piece being the battery.

A fully charged battery can power the Raven for about 60 minutes and a fresh battery can be loaded in two minutes, said Sgt. John Martinez, the UAV operator for Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment.

One aircraft costs about $40,000 and each system, which includes three aircraft and two ground control units, totals about $300,000, Evans said.

The Raven looks, sounds and is launched like a model airplane, though its capabilities extend beyond a hobby.

The Raven holds a camera that enables it to aid soldiers in conducting low-altitude reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition, according to www.army-technology.com.

The aircraft is controlled by two soldiers on the ground: a mission operator and a vehicle operator. The vehicle operator maneuvers the Raven with a remote control unit and the mission operator tracks the Raven's movement on a laptop.

Operators like Martinez made flying the Raven look easy Thursday in spite of the high winds that sometimes tried to lead the aircraft astray. Martinez is an armor crewman who was selected in 2008 to attend the UAV course at Fort Benning. Each company is authorized one operator, he said.

The Raven is useful during a deployment because units can use it to keep soldiers out of potentially dangerous situations. During Martinez's last deployment to Iraq - his third - the company received a tip that people were suspected of laying roadside bombs near its joint combat outpost.

The Raven was almost immediately launched to conduct surveillance over the area and it was discovered that the suspects were merely members of a road construction crew.

The UAV was launched quickly and quietly rather than having to call up a quick-reaction force and put soldiers in harm's way, Martinez said.

Evans joined the Army 15 years ago as a Multiple Launch Rocket System crewmember. He said Thursday he didn't have a clue he would someday be an expert in UAVs, though it was an honor to be selected as a master trainer.

Martinez said Raven training was becoming more popular among soldiers thinking about life after the Army because of the UAVs' use by the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Forest Service.

Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at astair@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7547. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary or www.facebook.com/astairrett.

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